Autodesk Has Designs On Collaboration

“There’s two reasons for me to invest in this business,” said Jeff Gravatte, CEO of CADD Micro, an Autodesk Premier Solutions Provider in Alexandria, Va., that generates 50 percent of its sales from the government. “Obviously, the trust and the symbiotic relationship. The other part about it is there are these markets opening up, and I’m watching them open up. We talk about collaboration, and collaboration is kind of the term that I would use for what is going to fuel new markets for Autodesk and for me,” said Gravatte during a CRN Roundtable discussion at Autodesk’s One Team partner conference earlier this month.

Among the more than 25 new products launched as part of Autodesk’s annual upgrade cycle are Autodesk Vault, which provides data management for manufacturing customers; Autodesk Productstream 5, which handles release management processes; and Autodesk Streamline 7, which is a hosted project-management offering. Collaboration also is central to the releases of AutoCAD 2007, AutoCAD Mechanical, AutoCAD Electrical and Autodesk Inventor.

Kristen Tomasic, vice president of engineering design solutions at Synergis, a 19-year-old Premier Solutions Provider that maintains four separate groups devoted to design specialists, says the data management capabilities of products such as Vault and Productstream are opening up design data to those outside the engineering group. For example, once models are created, this information can now be accessed and used by purchasing departments concerned with getting the best prices on raw materials.

Autodesk COO Carl Bass, who is slated to take over the CEO position May 1, says this trend points to a world that is becoming increasingly cooperative across international borders. “It pertains to our strategy of not just helping to create information, but helping manage and share it,” he said during an interview at the conference earlier this month. “Helping figure out how you do trans-Pacific, trans-Atlantic collaboration.”

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Autodesk VARs and resellers can expect the incoming CEO to uphold the San Rafael, Calif., company’s ongoing re-engagement with channel partners, albeit a fewer number of them, after its brief flirtation with a more aggressive direct sales strategy several years ago. Today, upward of 85 percent of sales come through resellers, and Bass said direct sales activities are focused on global accounts and on evangelizing bleeding-edge products. Bass has no stated plan to change the direct-indirect mix, and sales executives say partners can expect Autodesk’s consulting business to peak at about 10 percent of its overall business.

“We want [our partners] to be value-added, not compensating for value that wasn’t delivered,” he said. “That’s what I think often happens in enterprise software. [But this] doesn’t work in our market. I really want our resellers selling things that they can sell and make money on.”

Autodesk executives point out that over the past two years, the business of its average reseller has grown by more than 250 percent. Certainly, this is a function of the company’s aggressive sales expansion during that time—it’s expected to generate $1.8 billion in its 2007 fiscal year—but the fact is that the vendor’s North America channel also has shrunk by two-thirds. The company won’t disclose how many partners it works with.

Ken Bado, senior vice president of worldwide sales at Autodesk, says the software company is overhauling its policies and procedures across regions to create better field engagement between its field sales force and its partners.

Among other things, VARs are being asked to do more three-year business planning, and they are being asked to specialize in one of its four primary disciplines: manufacturing, building, public infrastructure and media/entertainment. “We are asking our channel partners to make decisions to sell less of the bag,” he said.

This is a decision that CRN Roundtable participants embraced, and at least two had restructured around the evolution to create separate business units.

Scott Harris, president and CEO of Avatech Solutions, Owings Mills, Md., said the move has served both to reduce instances of channel tension and conflict, and to increase its tendency to partner with other resellers. “In some of these different product areas, we do reach out to other VARs,” he said. “If we’re not authorized to sell in that area, we reach out to other VARs. We probably don’t do it nearly as much as we should. We’re probably all afraid to share each other’s customers. You know, probably the big area where we don’t do nearly enough as a channel as we should is the developing of user communities.”

Kevin Austin, president of Inlet Technology, a smaller partner than the other CRN Roundtable participants, said specialization has enabled Inlet to focus on solutions for the building industry while still reaping the benefits of Autodesk’s Value Incentive Rebate, paid out for demand generation and customer satisfaction, and its deal-registration program, which is just being rolled out. He relies on Autodesk Consulting to fill gaps. “They are my virtual bench,” he said.

Moreover, the shift has enabled Autodesk VARs to concentrate on improving training, a service central to all the participants’ businesses. “We’ve even told people, if you’re not going to make the investment in implementing [the software] correctly and in training your people to integrate the solution, don’t make the investment at all. That hit home for a lot of clients,” Tomasic said.